The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis

By Magali Sarfatti Larson | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
USES AND LIMITATIONS OF THE ARISTOCRATIC MODEL

The dual revolution -- industrial and bourgeois-democratic -- which transformed Western European societies and their offshoots in the nineteenth century is the historical matrix for most of classical sociology's concepts and ideas. Terms like "ascription" and "achievement," which we use so commonly today, not only evoke whole families of concepts at one end or the other of the gemeinschaft-gesellschaft typology; they also evoke the ideological climate in which the "great transformation" was perceived and conceptualized, the intersecting and conflicting currents of thought which provided the first binding links between concepts and the first efforts at comprehensive analysis. "Achievement," in this light, fits into a complex of ideas which was in large part shaped by the tradition of democratic liberalism. It is ideologically inseparable from the emphasis on the individual in a society dominated by the market. It evokes, also, the contractual theory of society with its foundations in the legal system, and the growing pre-eminence of economic determinants, based on the capitalist division of labor, in a changing system of social stratification. This word of caution is necessary to ward off the ready ideological implications of this analysis of collective mobility and to dispel any implication of evolutionism. It also serves to state a feeling of discomfort: for to focus on one single aspect of the "great transformation" is necessarily to be fragmentary and incomplete.

With these qualifications, we can now begin to characterize, as an ideal type, the professional project in nineteenth-century England. It challenged, as we know, well-established elites in the learned professions. In theory, therefore, England should offer a clear example of the reformist dimension in the professionalization movement: in their attack against corporate privileges, middle-class professional reformers were bound to accentuate the democratic and rationalizing potential of market-oriented professionalism. Moreover, the reformist spirit in the professions had been awakened by the broader movement for national reform; even during the years when the general spirit of reform had been quenched by patriotism and fear of the French Revolution, reformism in medicine and the law did not subside. Not only did professionals participate in the larger movement for political and social change; they often acted as its spokesmen, on behalf of classes to which they did not themselves belong.1 The professional principles of competence and efficiency

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